The silver lining in a dark cloud - Artists and Writers | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

The silver lining in a dark cloud - Artists and Writers

19 March, 2023


This week the Youth Observer reached out to the creative professionals of Sri Lanka to see how they are coping. We spoke to Yasodhara Pathanjali and Asela Abeywardene artists and Grace Wickramasinghe poet and content writer and Darshani Abeyrathna children’s author to see how they are doing during the economic crisis.

In conversation with our professionals here’s what we found out:

:What are the issues the art industry has run into because of the economic crisis?

The artists were of the opinion that even before the 2022 crisis, creatives were in trouble due to the import ban in Sri Lanka. Yasodara said that her fashion design side had to be completely put on hold as she could no longer buy the inks and paints she needed.

She added that as Customs charges are sky high for international online purchases, so even though painters manage to acquire paint and the raw material, the delivery and customs charges make it unaffordable.

Asela said that as a ceramic artist her main concerns were the power cuts and the rise in energy and raw material prices as her practice requires high energy consumption and uninterrupted electricity supply for more than 10 hours.

“The marketability of art work dropped significantly due to the rise of cost of living as well as the decline of the tourism and hospitality industries. The adverse effects on the construction industry and the rise of transportation and logistics costs are big factors,” she added.

Q: What is the impact of the economic crisis on writers?

Darshani said, “It is more difficult for me to get my stories published and disseminated as a result of the drop in demand for children’s books brought on by families’ reduced expendable cash.

“The experience of holding a physical book in your hands, feeling its weight and texture, and turning the pages can be a unique and enjoyable sensory experience for me personally.

“Ultimately, the choice between physical books and digital books is a matter of personal preference, and both formats have their own pros and cons,” said Darshani.

Grace said one of the issues especially when you are working freelance as a content writer, it is hard to find paid work because it is not seen as a necessity and due to various budget cuts.

“I have written poetry and I perform poetry as well and so far I have been self-publishing and due to the increase in cost of paper, it has become a serious concern. While I don’t have anything ready to publish immediately, it is an obstacle to get started,” she added.

Q: What have you done to mitigate these issues?

Yashodara answering this question said that she took up the challenge and changed the material she used and started experimenting with whatever that was available. “I’ve actually really enjoyed this part of the process, and look forward to seeing what comes out of it. Any struggle at the end of the day is an opportunity that can take you to greater heights than before,” she added.

Asela said “I took a conscious decision to avoid negative, detrimental, biased misinformation and disinformation propagated by mainstream as well as social media.

“Then I actively engaged in enhancing wellbeing by practicing mindfulness, engaging with nature, doing physical exercise and being in professional and personal relationships which are mutually rewarding, inspiring and healthy.

“I also started to actively look out for and collaborate with individuals and organisations which have a positive outlook: who believe in this country’s potential and who have attempted to contribute to the economy by working hard and finding innovative methods, instead of blaming others or the country for their failures or inability,” she added.

The writers were of the opinion that they have used self-publishing and digital marketing to lessen these problems.

Darshani said, “by making my stories accessible online, digital publishing enables me to reach a larger audience. I have total control over the production process when I self-publish, and I also get to retain a bigger cut of the revenue. I’ve also been able to reach a wider audience by writing shorter stories that can be printed in magazines and newspapers.”

Grace said, “With the economic crisis I have branched away from writing for a while and moved into these fields which have more stability. However I didn’t necessarily want to depend on my creativity for a living as I believe it would put an unnecessary strain on it.”

Q: Have you had issues with editing and other related matters due to budgetary constraints?

We directed this question at the writers and they believed that budgetary restrictions that come with the economic crisis are another problem have effected their work. Darshani added that, while hiring an editor can be pricey, it’s an essential step in the writing process.

Q: Have had issues with getting out your art to the public due to budgetary reasons?

Yashodara said, “For me it was Covid that dented the public aspect.”

Q: How have you had to adjust your career and your attitude to navigate the economic crisis?

The artists believed that the crisis is not “new”. “It’s a very normal part of the economy. There has been some form of economic crisis at play every year that I’ve noticed since I first started working, over 20 years ago. There’s no beauty or opportunity for greatness in stagnant stability,” said Yashodara.

The writers were of the opinion that attitude change is everything when it comes to navigating tough times. While there are many opportunities available, it is important to pick what works for you.

Q: Do you believe artists can find suitable opportunities overseas?

The artists said that it is not something they have explored or is interested in. “A true artist is motivated by all that they have to express and the stories they have to tell and the conversations they need to start via their work. It’s an expression that cannot be quelled. It’s not “job”, it’s not a career. It’s a vocation. You live to create. Not to earn or be famous or have “opportunities””, said Yashodara.

The writers said that thanks to the internet, writers can discover suitable opportunities abroad.

Q: Do you have any advice for the young generation of artists?

Yashodara said, “I would like to say to the young generation of artists, to put their phones down. Stay away from art “classes”, stop believing that pencil “photo drawings”, copies of paintings from Google, coloured in stock drawings etc are “art”.

Art is just YOUR voice. No one can teach it to you. No one can tell you what it sounds like or what you should say. You have to invest in time by yourself, in practicing by yourself, in trusting your hand, in respecting what you create. And last, don’t compare with others.”

Asela said, “You need to surround yourself with people who are encouraging and believe in your potential. You also need to try to see through the ‘popular’ propaganda and make decisions based on your own awareness and independent perceptions.

“You could make use of the available resources as much as possible especially the online platforms and untapped local talent and material. Most importantly you should ensure your own emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing by identifying factors which would rob you of that,” she added.

Darshani said, “Just don’t be in the rat race, take small steps and go ahead. You will make your way at the end. To develop writing abilities and produce better work, it’s also crucial to ask for feedback and criticism on your work.

“It’s critical to keep in mind that writing is a journey, and achievement requires patience and effort as always.The difficulties posed by the economic crisis can be overcome by writers with perseverance, dedication, and a desire to adapt. Simply I would say, Dream Big,” said Darshani.

Finally Grace added, “Write for yourself, write what you know, write what you are passionate about, and know your worth and everything else will fall into place.”